Black women in building development is a rarity, but Lennox and Grae’s Nish Evans is changing that standard, all while carrying on her family’s legacy
By Elizabeth Poindexter | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Imagine this scenario: You have 90 days to secure $2.5 million. Durham entrepreneur Nish Evans made it happen in 2019; she raised the necessary capital and made her first commercial real estate acquisition of 112 W. Main St., a nearly 100-year-old building in the heart of downtown.
She purchased the West Main Street property from Elaine Curry and Dawn Paige of Empress Development LLC, who were the second generation of Black owners of the building. Nish became the third.
“I just think that speaks volumes in terms of intentionality around Black business owners,” Nish says. “I’m really out to be the best businesswoman that I can be. … It’s just such a beautiful story to know what those who were before me have done.”
Nish launched Lennox and Grae Inc., a commercial real estate investment firm, in 2018, and Lennox and Grae Construction Inc. followed in 2020. Nish has acquired three properties in Durham, including 216 Rigsbee Ave. and 310 E. Main St., a historical landmark where she plans to open office space this year for herself and her two employees.
“I operate with a certain level of confidence, but it’s always rooted in gratitude,” Nish says. “Durham, even though it feels like this growing or expanding urban culture, is still small enough where you can build these really close and intimate relationships.”
Those connections helped Nish cultivate a team of supporters who believe in her vision of pursuing construction and real estate, including Andrew Philipps, who worked at her former employer, CT Wilson Construction Co., and acted as a business advisor who was instrumental to her success.
“Everyone is like a sounding board,” she says. … “That continues to help me stay empowered in terms of the direction of the company.”
Nish graduated in 2006 from N.C. State University with a degree in anthropology and then pursued finance at Square 1 Bank, which was acquired in 2019, before obtaining a certificate from N.C. State in construction management in 2018. She also obtained her real estate license along the way.
She has raised a combined $8.5 million in capital to acquire 32,000 square feet of real estate in downtown Durham and an additional 82,500 square feet in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. As managing partner, her companies strike a balance between being intentional in providing opportunities for local businesses and her investment partners’ goals. Her current tenants include Empower Dance Studio, Morningstar Law Group and Luna Rotisserie and Empanadas; the LGBTQ Center of Durham plans to move from Hunt Street to 310 E. Main St. early this summer.
Nish says she is already linked up with the next generation of management at Lennox and Grae – her two sons, Ellery Lennox, 9, and Zoelen Grae, 8, for whom Lennox and Grae is named.
“For now, they take it pretty seriously about taking over the company and being the future leadership,” Nish says. “But some days, they talk about being a Pokémon trainer. … It makes me laugh.
“I wanted to create in my mind what motherhood looks like,” Nish says. “… My goal is: I hope you see Mom dream and build.”
Her aspirations have a familial connection to the past as well. She learned in late 2021 that both her paternal and maternal great-grandfathers worked in construction.
“I really think I am bringing into fruition some of the dreams they had,” she says. “I get emotional when I think about it, but it’s one of the most beautiful things.”
Nish also serves on the board of several organizations, including Downtown Durham Inc., Central Park School for Children, Durham YMCA and Made in Durham. When she meets other women in leadership positions, especially in construction, she advises them as best as she can.
“I always encourage women, especially women, to remind themselves that they are smart enough to figure it out,” she says. “Durham has been my start. I know there are so many other opportunities that are out there.”